Living a good life, not getting it right, and the enneagram

This blog’s main idea was drawn heavily from a journal entry I made in November of 2019. The question had been posed to me – “What is it that makes for a good life?”

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What does it take to be good? What attributes must one possess in abundance – are they even attributes that one possesses? Is living a good life about “getting it right?” About living perfectly and morally as a responsible citizen? Following laws and obeying rules? What is this life to be about anyway?

Steinbeck asks it like this: “A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well – or ill?”

I am beginning to learn in a very real way that one cannot be good without first recognizing that one is not very good at all. Certainly a contradiction, but one that I think Christianity captures in its overall narrative. As usual, allow me to meander through some thoughts before making my point…

One of the greatest sources of life change is to dive into one’s own inadequacies. The great discovery of self does not come from ignoring or eradicating one’s selfish or “sinful” impulses and desire. Rather, it begins when one plumbs deeply into the very things that are unlikable about oneself, seeing them for all that they are and still loving them.

It is the place where the golden boy and the prodigal meet that the real conversation, change, and growth happens (see previous blog post about The Golden Boy and Prodigal). 

There is this thing called the Enneagram, and dear reader, if you have not heard of the Enneagram, then allow me to highly recommend checking it out. The Enneagram is a personality test that provides the language and tools to understand basic desires and impulses of nine different types of people.

I believe it is these basic desires and impulses that lead to an individual’s success and failures. The Enneagram allows people to talk about their basic desires without having to pass judgement on those desires, which is critical for growth. In other words, the Enneagram allows individuals to amorally identify their “shadow self” or those parts of their identity that they prefer to hide. Continuing along now….

When the shadow self or the prodigal is identified, (again, the Enneagram is extremely useful for identifying the shadow self) one must not be repelled. In being repulsed by one’s very own self, one can fracture his or her identity and begin to dissociate from the “aspects” considered “sinful” or repugnant. 

But one must not be repulsed; rather, one must embrace. If one can embrace the very worst part of ourselves, which from the individual’s limited frame is undoubtedly the very worst of humanity, then the categories we use to define, restrict and judge other people lose both their importance and their weight. 

When this begins to happen on a broad scale, communities can change.

We can begin to see in the other, our very selves. We can inhabit that ancient Jewish wisdom of loving the foreigner, the outsider, “for you were once their very selves in the land of Egypt.”  We just might begin to live good lives.

The question then becomes: Where does one find the grace, the ability, the notion, the idea to seek out the prodigal within and to love him or her? Where does one find the ability to bring unity to the fractured self? Where does the power come from that is able to unite those two disparate parts? 

I am not entirely sure, but wherever it does come from, I don’t think it comes from within. It is ephemeral, fleeting, like the wind (not like the wind in Oklahoma though).

The great journey to the inner self and a good life ends in realizing that the answers are not within and must be found from something outside. 

The Christian perspective claims that this stuff that comes from the outside is called “grace”  and that it came from someone named Jesus. I think these days it comes from individuals who embody the characteristics of Christ. It is through relationships with others who embody this ability to accept the seemingly unacceptable within themselves, that we might be able to learn how to accept our own flaws, that we might just learn how to be good.

In the end, the answer to the question, “what is it that makes for a good life?” is less about “getting it right” than I once believed. Living a good life is not about being morally right. It’s not about never making a mistake. It’s not about having all the answers. 

Living a good life comes from putting things back together, restoring and redeeming and making whole that which was once separate.

Living a good life starts within, when one can receive a gift of “grace” from outside, and then that gift flows outward through actions to others, the community, and eventually the world.

Too Long ; Didn’t Read

Part of living a good life comes from recognizing the very worst things about our personality and accepting the inadequacies for what they are, rather than rejecting or trying to eradicate them entirely. The Enneagram provides helpful tools, language and framing for such conversations and dissections to occur within the self. The Enneagram helps “put back together” the fractured self, and it is this “putting back together” of oneself and the world that makes for a good life.

The featured image is from the OKC Museum of Art exhibit Renewing the American Spirit: The Art of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture the artist or title. Regardless, the black layering highlights emphasize the strength of the colors through contrast, almost as if the colors are better off for being placed against the shadowy blackness.

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